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The negative effects of GOP malice and MBA stupidity on Research shows no sign of slowing down

The commenters at In the Pipeline are beginning to think that nothing short of a bacterial apocalypse is going to get the public’s attention. I don’t even want to think of how that could come about.

Derek continues to document the atrocities. Amgen acquired Onyx and laid off 300 of their researchers this week. Add that to the antibiotic researchers who got laid off last week, the 100 or so Sanofi oncology investigators who got laid off last month and the Shire investigators who got the ax last week as well.

By the way, we are now referring to ourselves as investigators, not researchers. Add it to your glossary.

And now, the NSF is complaining that the Republican Congress is sticking its mitt into research, playing politics and generally making an already miserable situation even worse. I got this article in my email blast from Nature yesterday:

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has had a tough couple of years. Republicans in the US Congress have put the agency under the microscope, questioning its decisions on individual grants and the purpose of entire fields of study. The agency was without a permanent director for a year, and it is now planning an expensive, and controversial, move to new headquarters.

As she prepares to mark one year at the agency’s helm, astrophysicist France Córdova is carefully navigating these challenges. “I used to be a mountaineer,” she says. “It’s all about looking at every move and how you can best do it so that you don’t take a fall.” But many researchers worry that Congress has begun to interfere with the scientific process. As mistrust grows, the NSF is caught between the scientists it serves and the lawmakers it answers to.

Córdova has moved aggressively to repair relations with Congress. Aides to lawmakers who participated in a December trip to NSF facilities in Antarctica say that the journey was successful. And to address concerns about transparency, the agency has instituted guidelines that should make its grant summaries easier to understand.

But such efforts seem to have had little influence on an investigation of the NSF’s funding decisions by Representative Lamar Smith (Republican, Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Since he took the job two years ago, Smith has sought to root out what he sees as wasteful spending by the US$7-billion NSF. He has introduced legislation that would require the agency to certify that every grant it awards is in the “national interest”, and he has repeatedly sought, and been given, confidential information about individual NSF grants — albeit in redacted form. On at least four occasions, staff from the science committee travelled to the NSF’s headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, to review such documents, most recently on 28 January.

“There is a sense of exhaustion among researchers as this has continued,” says Meghan McCabe, a legislative-affairs analyst at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Bethesda, Maryland. An NSF programme director who asked not to be named is more direct: “Having them in our building questioning our work like that felt like an attack.”

Some of these politicians make a big deal out of the fact that they don’t believe in evolution or the effect that human activity can have on climate. I am assuming that some are lying to get elected. But I’m hearing from former investigators that they have stopped doing research on dementia because only traumatic brain injury was being funded. Department of Defense grants seem to be in somewhat better supply in se fields of study.

Anyway, just read it. It’s just one more straw breaking the camel’s back. Between the constant layoffs, restructuring, relocations, impoverished startups, vulture capitalists, stingy academic salaries and hard to get grants, and more Congressional oversight from a bunch of anti-science wing nuts, investigators can’t catch a break. We’re on our last nerve.

We’re exhausted in every sense of the word.

16 Responses

  1. This Lamar Smith reminds me of the one-time Democratic Senator from Wisconsin . . . Senator Proxmire with his Golden Fleece Awards.
    ” Studying the sex-life of boll weevils! Soooo wasteful! Boll weevils ha ha ha! You get the Golden Fleece award!”

    It wasn’t funny if you were part of the multi-billion cotton-growing industry in the South.

    The New Deal was advanced by a political coalition of disparate and otherwise-opposed groups. If we want to reNew the Deal, we will have to rebuild the coalition. Or a new coalition for new times and conditions.

    De-jobbed and disemployed thingmakers might be willing to support freedom-of-research for scientists if those scientists are willing to support the Abolition of all Free Trade Agreements and the re-onshoring of all industry. . . for example.

    • 1.) I LOVE Re-New the Deal! That has an amazingly catchy ring to it.
      2.) what makes you think scientists would be against re-onhoring jobs? Even Chinese scientists don’t want to work in China.
      The way people think scientists think is puzzling to me. We’re not the ones laying ourselves off.

      • I don’t think scientists were so much “against” re-onshoring as they were indifferent to the whole issue until they themselves experienced the offshoring which Free Trade had first inflicted on Union Thingmakers and other non University-credentialled people. And I am sure that scientists are not “against” re-onshoring now for science jobs.

        The problem is that scientists are going to have to show non-scientists that scientists care about non-scientist jobs if they want non-scientists who have all had their jobs offshored to care about the offshoring of scientist jobs. And the only way to re-onshore jobs is to abolish Free Trade and restore Belligerent Protectionism, so that the cost differential between offshore and onshore can be ignored and rejected and negated through protective tariffs and protective non-tariff barriers to Forced Trade. That means that scientists are going to have to demonstrate their support for the Abolition of Free Trade and the Reimposition of Belligerent Protectionism for everyone else as well as for themselves.

        The New Deal was only possible due to the protection we had behind the legacy remains of the Tariff Wall carefully built all through the 1800s. If we want to ReNew the Deal, we will have to Rebuild the Wall. If scientists are ready to embrace Patriotectionism for everyone else and reject Free Trade Treason for everyone else, then they will be in a position to expect support from everyone else for Patriotectionism for scientists and No More Free Trade Treason against scientists. That’s how cynical coalitions of mutually selfish pursuit of interests are built.

        Personally I am flattered and feel validated that you like ” Renew the Deal”. I hereby uncopyright and copyleft that phrase so that anyone who wants to is free to use it for free.

        • Honestly? I’m not sure how we got the reputation of being indifferent. It’s been on our radar since about 1988. If we were importing so many foreign scientists, it was only a matter of time before someone got the bright idea to export the jobs.
          S
          Don’t confuse living in your head with indifference. We’ve been subjected to M&As and restructuring for 30+ years. You’re just now hearing about it. Why have you been indifferent to our situation?
          Well, mostly it’s due to bad PR
          Btw, don’t confuse scientists with management.
          Two different animals.

          • “Export the jobs” is a rather self-defeating framing, as it takes on Corporate Americas “white man’s burden” posturing as self-evident truth.

            Remember how happy Americans felt when they were “importing” jobs from Japan in the 1980s? No?

            Then consider how Chinese and Indians feel right now.

          • We’re all Chinese and Indian now.

          • That’s the point, you’re getting screwed out of your salary, they’re getting screwed out of their independence. You both get screwed in the deal.

          • I think you must think I am disagreeing with you.
            This would be incorrect.
            The way we SHOULD be looking at this situation is the business majors making a living and everyone else, um, not.
            It doesn’t matter what country you’re living in.
            On the other hand, I have had former chinese colleagues tell me that China is not set up to be a research mecca yet. It doesn’t have the infrastructure. There’s too much corruption and the working environment is not conducive to independent thought, which is what you need in research.

    • It’s hard to miss the similarity with the Roman Republic in its final stages.

      The “mob” you see in those old costume epics was restive because ordinary Romans couldn’t compete with forced labor in the Provinces.

      In the end the Patricians bought them off, which created a hideously perverse system where Rome enslaved people in the Provinces to finance the dole payments, which were used to buy off the Roman commoners, who were angry because they wanted to work for pay but couldn’t, because Rome enslaved people in the Provinces to finance…

      • {{thinking it thru…}}
        Yeah. Something like that.

        But basically, no one wants to pay scientists to do science.

      • Rather like (more or less) free laborers in the USA can’t compete with de facto slave labor in more authoritarian states–although one could make a case that the USA is now the most authoritarian state on the planet, since it jails the highest proportion of its citizens.👿

  2. This comment is slightly off topic but certainly relates. I am extremely cynical. But it is difficult to keep up with this White House or the Previous Bush cesspool. Just viewing this thought with the idea that the Safety Net has been under extreme pressures from a number of fronts. It has always been the Republicans wet dream to dismantle FDR’s programs. Especially Social Security. But of course Food Stamps, Earned Income Tax Credit and Medicaid etc. are right up there with programs that the powers that be would like to see ruined. I have always felt Obama was put into office to destroy them. And that only a Democrat was capable of doing the Nixon to China gambit type thing. I feel they are attempting to destroy it in a very devious way. They are trying to swamp it! Devious beyond compare! First you import millions of immigrants, make them eligible for food stamps, welfare, Social Security and SSI. Just how can the system withstand perhaps the doubling of the number of recipients in a very short span. If they can’t afford this huge increase then the obvious answer will be destroying it or cutting back the benefits so drastically as to kill it. The safety Net will be killed with generosity. Is this strategy too cynical?

    • Yes, you are too cynical.
      Foreign scientists have it rough here. Even if they get a green card, they might not be able to stay if they lose their jobs.
      And a scientist without a green card who gets laid off has to return to their home country within a couple months unless they find another sponsor company. This leaves them very vulnerable to unscrupulous corporations that would be all too happy to exploit them and then send them home. I knew researchers who lost their jobs and owned houses in the US that they were in danger of losing.
      There is no safety net for them. They deserve mercy, not suspicion.

    • I remember reading once where University of Chicago neo-liberal economist Milton Friedman once said that if you had unlimited poverty (especially illegal) immigration you would bankrupt the welfare state. You could either preserve the welfare state or have unlimited illegal immigration. You had to pick one. Since Friedman opposed the existence of the welfare state, Friedman supported illegal immigration in order to bankrupt the welfare state. I remember reading him call for illegal immigration for exactly that reason.

      So I think your analysis of the Friedmanite Democrats (including Obama) is exactly correct, and requires no cynicism at all.

  3. I wonder if the Obama Girl has a decent job or is working in the Retail Hamburger Industry.

    If you’re in a conversation with a republican and they accuse Obama of being a Communist remind them that it is Mitt sending jobs “To Communist China” with an emphasis on the Communist.

    • CINO (Communist In Name Only), of course. If China were still trying to be actually Communist, it would be a larger North Korea.

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